There are a lot of things YA needs. I mean a lot, more than I could ever cover on this blog.
However, today I’d like to discuss one of those many topics, one that I feel is close to my heart and that is cutting people out from your life. Overall, I feel like is something that needs to be portrayed better in media, talked about more in general.
I can’t tell you the number of television shows I watch where, at some point, someone keeps another person in their life because they’re family or friends or for another person in their life… All around I feel like it isn’t a good message to keep sending to people. That it isn’t good, it isn’t okay to cut toxic people out of our lives when reality it is.
Especially in YA do I think this is needed. I’ve confessed multiple times that high school was a hard time for me and I witnessed it be a worse time for others. We need to diversify YA, enrich it with different races, gender, sexualities, and we need to expand on the topics that are tackled in it.
Cutting someone out of your life is one of the hardest things a person can do. In my 18, almost 19 years I’ve cut or attempted to cut out 3-4 people in my life. At least two friends and one relative.
They were and are both hard in their own ways.
Let’s begin with family.
It’s no secret that in YA family relations are, well, weird. Sometimes people don’t have a family, sometimes they just hate their family. The thing with this is, especially when it comes to not liking their family, I find that a lot of times it’s shown that, despite that, they need their biological family, they have to get over it and move on. Never is it shown or even suggested that a life without that family member may be better.
Unless that family member is the villain but even then there can be that weird “they’re still my family” narrative where most people go “OMG John they’ve murdered 200 people, no one gives a rat’s ass they’re your family” and especially the audience doesn’t need to see that.
The last thing teens need to be beaten over the head with is that no matter what you’re attached to these people and that’s what we’re seeing. Is no matter what they’re your family, you’re attached to them, you’re bound to them by blood and you can’t let them go.
Hell, we have the most famous case of Harry Potter. The Dursley’s are abusers and yet Harry is made to go back to them time and time again and while no one excuses their treatment of Harry no one stops it. They’re his family, his blood, never mind that they hate him, that they’ve mentally and likely physically abused him, he still has to go back to them until he’s legally old enough to be on his own.
No, no one ever says “they aren’t that bad” but no one ever helps him or tells him that it’s okay to not want to live with them, to never want to see them again, at least not in my memory.
I’ve witnessed so many people go through this struggle of “my family hurts me more than anything but I can’t leave they’re my family”. Even I feel that sometimes. I want to detach myself from certain members of my family I feel are harmful but, hell, they’re my family and as long as my parents are providing for me I have to at least pretend to like those I don’t.
That should never be the case.
If a teen feels like they’re being hurt more than cared for if they’re obviously being hurt more than cared for then they should know that it’s okay to cut those people out of their life no matter their relation. At the end of the day, it’s their life, our lives. This world keeps kicking us and we need to take control wherever we can to continue standing, however, we can. One of those places of control should be who we have in our lives. We should be able to consent to who comes in and out of our lives.
Being related to someone isn’t a good reason to keep them around if they’re being hurtful.
There need to be narratives that show cutting family out of someone’s life is okay. I don’t know what the options would be for those teens but I know there are some and I know it’s important for them to see that just because someone birthed you or because you all share the same blood, doesn’t mean you have to stay with them.
Whether or not people realize it, what people read can impact their lives. A teen with familial issues reading that it’s okay to cut those people out? It could be it could be life changing.
Moving on from that, friendships. People who aren’t related to you.
This is where I personally struggle more with as I am a clingy person. I love my family, my immediate family is amazing, so luckily I don’t deal with the struggle above as closely but I have dealt with this one.
I’ve dealt with this on three fronts. 1. I’ve had people I want to cut out of my life but I don’t know how therefore they’re still in my life. 2. I’ve had people I cut out of my life because they were bad for my health but then I desperately wanted to go back to them because I felt lonely. 3. People I’ve cut out of my life because I felt they would be bad for me but then felt bad about it because of something going on with them.
I realize these may not be the most general topics but have no fear, I will speak about this on a general basis.
Friendships can be tricky things, especially in high school. You have one or a few close friends, you’ve got a group you run with, people you hang with and all that.
Something happens and it doesn’t even actually have to be a thing. Maybe there’s a falling out, a disagreement? Maybe they don’t treat you kindly and it’s fucking with you, they don’t know or maybe they don’t care. Maybe you just suddenly aren’t feeling it anymore. They haven’t really done anything but suddenly hanging with them is a chore. Once you’re done you need to sleep for hours and in the long haul, the damage is worth than the benefit.
Now, I should state, I genuinely believe there needs to be something to a friendship, almost a give and take, a mutual respect, everyone bringing something to the party and I believe that if you have a friendship, you’re bringing something to it whether you consciously know it or not. I did away with two friends because the harm began to outweigh the benefit, so while there could still be a mutual bond, they were or had brought something more harmful to the table. Another I ended because I believed I was bringing more harm than good to the table and a little visa versa.
The thing with friendships in YA is they already suck a lot, I’ve talked about this before. When it is there it’s toxic so I see there being only two options.
First, write better friendships or two, show people cutting friends out and show it as healthy.
When I was younger I read a number of YA books in which the MC’s “best friend” was the kind who only came alive when their friend needed them, who only existed for their friend, who threw away everything for their friend. It always made me think that either I needed to be there no matter what for my friends or the other way around and that needs to stop.
Writing like that, those implications have to stop.
I feel like a lot of teens believe that they need to stay with their friends, especially their close ones and in high school it can be especially hard to establish a group and once you do it feels permanent.
It’s important that in YA we portray it as acceptable, as healthy to cut someone out of your life. And even more so, it needs to be shown as healthy from multiple angles.
Don’t just write about toxic friends being cut out because that isn’t always the case. I mean, yes, write narratives where someone walks away from an abusive friend. But also write ones where they disagree and walk away because of morals-
(Quick pause because The Hate U Give has a brilliant example of this) –
Write friendships where it isn’t necessarily obvious the other party that they’ve hurt their friend when the friend leaves. Write narratives that show them leaving because they just feel drained from the friendship or because they just aren’t feeling that friendship anymore.
We need to see these on page. No, we don’t necessarily need it to be the entire plot but they can be worked in there as well as any other sort of relationship or subplot. I will always believe if you can write in a relationship plot, you can write in other things too.
And for the love of god, remember, always remember, it is not easy to cut someone out of your life.
It weighs on a person oh so hard. You cut someone out of your life and you sit there questioning whether it was the right decision, you want to go back to them, you feel empty without them… It isn’t easy. Recognizing a harmful relationship, recognizing that you don’t want a relationship anymore isn’t easy.
And don’t act like it is just because it’s a friendship. Those are so fucking hard to walk away from. Friends play such a large role in our lives and to lose them leaves a huge fucking hole for a really long time.
It isn’t easy but it’s necessary.
And it’s important that we write these into YA novels and let teens know that it’s okay to take control over who comes into your life and who you cut out.
Start showing teens that their lives are valued and their opinions and feelings are respected and write to reflect that.
No one ever wants to feel trapped. No one wants to read about their characters staying in relationships that they don’t want to or that are hurting them.
Lastly, I swear, please remember this as well: there is a difference between conflict in a relationship and needing to walk away from one. The best and most personal explaining for the difference I can give is that conflict gets resolves, it goes away. Problems that stem from needing to walk away they stay with you no matter what. They bounce around in your head for days, months, years. Until what needs to be done is done.
That’s all for this post. Let me know your thoughts and feelings on this topic in the comments.
Thank you for reading and check back later for more content!